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Sheltie History

The Shetland Islands make up a group of approximately 100 islands, about 50 miles off the northern coast of Scotland, and almost as far north as Norway. Of all the islands, only about 25 are inhabited. The largest of these islands is called Mainland. It is about 60 miles in length, and 20 miles at its widest and just 50 yards at its smallest width - where one can throw a stone from the Atlantic Ocean into the North Sea.

The islands are as rugged as they are beautiful, with rocky coastlines, harsh and damp climate, coastal storms, and sparseness of vegetation and grazing lands. Because of this sparseness of vegetation and grazing areas, the islands are known for producing livestock in diminutive size... from their cattle, to the world famous Shetland Pony... to their sheep whose long, soft wool has made Shetland wool products in demand the world over... to their beautiful Shetland Sheepdog, with its look of a collie in miniature.

In the beginning the Islands first inhabitants were a small dark race of people - the Picts - who gave the land its reputation for being inhabited by "pixies" or fairies. Later the Norsemen overran the Islands, and then the Scots as well, so that today, the inhabitants are a combination of the native breeds of each of these peoples.

At one point, the Sheltie was known as the "Toonie" dog. The theory behind the name is that since many of the islanders were of Norwegian ancestry, and the Norwegian word for small farm is "Tun or "Toon"... thus the name Toonie, or small farm dog.

The chief job of the Sheltie was not just to herd cattle or sheep as is commonly thought of all herding breeds, but their job was also to keep the small ponies, cattle, sheep, and water fowl out of the gardens and flower beds found on the farms of the homesteaders. They did not have huge flocks or herds to maintain, because there were not huge flocks or herds found on the island... what herding they did was in addition to their ability to chase away the livestock that threatened to eat the garden and flowers of the homesteaders.

This background probably explains why the Sheltie of today are homebodies that prefer to be busy little bees around the yard, chasing and often barking at anything that moves, eager to please, and intensely loyal to its family. The islanders selected their dogs for these qualities, as well as for their ability to work, stamina, courage, and intelligence - a trait which can still be seen in the modern Shelties of today.

The Sheltie was originally recognized as the "Shetland Collie", but early Collie breeders objected to the name and it was ultimately changed to the Shetland Sheepdog. They were originally not supposed to exceed 12 inches nor 14 pounds according to the Shetland Stud book set up in 1908. Official recognition from the Kennel Club (English) occurred in 1909. The first Sheltie standard was written in 1910, at which time the height was raised to 15 inches.

Shelties were first registered in the United States in 1911 but there was no real interest in the breed until 1924 when Catherine Coleman Moore began "Sheltieland" Kennels by importing an English female "Kilvarock Lassie." As a result, all of the founding stock for American, and subsequently Canadian Shelties trace to English dogs. The modern American/Canadian Sheltie is descended almost entirely from dogs imported from England between World Wars I and II.

Of the dogs registered between 1909 and 1926, 42% were black and tan with no white (a colour we no longer see). 18% of the dogs registered were tricolours, 15% were sables, 4% black and white and 8% sable and white. Other colours recorded where chocolates, browns, blacks, brindled sable, and white black and tan. The Blue Merle colour was introduced into the breed after they were brought to England and crossed with Collies.

Interestingly enough, the most popular colour in the first part of the century (black and tan no white) is virtually extinct having been bred out over the years. The solid coated colors - those having no white - and which originally accounted for at least half the original registrations - are gone from the breed. And one of the least popular colours of the time, the sable and white, is now by far, one of the most popular colour of the Sheltie. Originally coats were sparse and light since a heavy coat was a detriment to a working dog, but over the years, as popularity demanded, coats in fullness and length at about the same rate as the Collie's over the past 75 years to the more heavily coat dog we see today.

Both the Canadian Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club presently recognize the breed in the Herding Group. The current size standard in both countries is 13-16 inches at the withers.

The Sheltie we love today were once the homesteaders working partners, sharing their lives during long winters and summer days, caring for their flocks, and guarding their property. This close association with humans, plus the instinct of generations of herding dogs in his genetic makeup, gave the Sheltie uncanny understanding of people and an intense sense of loyalty and responsibility... a trait which they still exhibit in today's modern world, making the Sheltie one of the most endearing and popular breeds of dogs in North America.

For more information please visit Sue Ann Bowling's Sheltie History Pages

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